Time for Bettman to face facts

TED WYMAN

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

Honestly, it gets tiresome always dumping on Gary Bettman but try as I might, it's impossible to hold back.

The guy simply has a way of getting under the skin of good old Canadian hockey fans.

His latest effort comes in the form of his staunch defence of his precious Sun Belt franchises, the very ones that make the NHL seem like a third-rate league in the United States.

It seems Little Man Gary will stake his reputation, not to mention the future of the league, on teams that are inappropriately placed in southern, warm-weather markets where the only ice people ever see is in their gin and tonics.

It doesn't seem to matter that teams in places like Phoenix, Atlanta, Nashville and Florida have poor attendance, are giving away tickets just to get the fans they have, are bleeding money and barely rate mention on the local sports pages.

Their troubles, Bettman says, are a figment of the Canadian media's collective imagination.

Perhaps the Canadian media is simply more in touch with reality, because we've seen what happens when a team struggles financially north of the border. They back up the moving trucks and relocate to a city hand-picked by Bettman, where promises of good lease arrangements and deep-pocketed owners make up for the lack of any real hockey fans.

And even if the marriage of Sun Belt city and franchise is working about as well as your average Toronto Maple Leafs five-year plan, Bettman defends it till the end of his days, because anything else would be admitting a grievous error.

Where was that kind of blind loyalty when Canadian hockey fans needed it?

Nowhere to be found.

Much like the commissioner's ability to acknowledge his own league's glaring flaws.

Like this mistake, made several times over in poor markets across the southern U.S., that everyone not wearing rose-coloured glasses can plainly see.

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